How Tocci Became a National BIM Leader


View from lobby entrance: Autodesk sign and view of floating conference rooms

In 2008, Tocci partnered with architect KlingStubbins to complete the $12-million Waltham headquarters of software maker Autodesk Inc.

Not long after John Tocci took the helm of the family business from his father in 1985, he saw an unsavory shift in the industry that made him consider the unthinkable: walking away from the company his grandfather had founded in 1922, Tocci & Sons, now Tocci Building Cos., Woburn, Mass.

I never imagined the day would come that I would discourage my three sons from following in my footsteps, but somewhere after 1994, I had become completely disheartened by the lack of collaboration and how litigious the building process had become. I felt the industry had lost all its nobility, and I wanted no part of it for me or my sons.

John Tocci, CEO of Tocci

Rather than turn his back on the industry he loved, Tocci set out to change the decades-old status quo. He embraced innovation and collaboration to transform the construction process and worked with his team to build a legacy that honors his father, grandfather, and future generations. The impact of Tocci Building Cos. extends far beyond its Northeast and Mid-Atlantic markets. Over the past decade, the regional contractor has established itself as a national leader in building information modeling, virtual construction, and integrated project delivery.

John is regularly visited by the heads of the top U.S. construction companies. Those guys are constantly knocking on his door, wanting to know what he’s doing and what he’s thinking. He’s a little mid-market contractor, but he has that kind of presence on the national scene.

Phillip Bernstein, V.P. ,+ Industry Relations and Strategist at Autodesk AEC Solutions

In 2001, Tocci began advocating for the use of BIM to reduce the waste created by change orders and improve the overall construction process. “I was ready, but the industry was not,” he says. By 2005, designers had warmed up to the idea, and Tocci moved forward with his plan to implement BIM. He hired Laura Handler, a young engineer fresh from Worcester Polytechnic Institute, to establish the company’s virtual design and construction department—which in the early days consisted of Handler and one other person.

Tocci says that Handler, who had studied BIM in industrial manufacturing for product design, brought an understanding of the technology that few others on staff had. To assist with the transition, Tocci also brought his son John Jr. in as a consultant; John Jr., despite his father’s warning, ended up in construction management, currently for Gilbane Building Co.

“We just jumped in and figured it out as we went along,” Handler says. Tocci Building’s first BIM project in 2006—two prototype Aloft and Element hotels for Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide in Lexington, Mass.—finished on time, earned LEED-Gold certification, and achieved a return on investment of 2:1.

As the company’s understanding of BIM improved, so did its average project return on investment, climbing to 6:1. The firm quickly moved beyond the basics of clash detection and quantity extraction and now specializes in high-performance building analysis and rapid prototyping. Tocci Building’s growing expertise in BIM allowed it to take the next step in its process transformation and shift its focus from traditional delivery to BIM-enabled integrated project delivery.

In 2008 the company cemented its reputation as an innovator with the $12-million Waltham, Mass., headquarters for software maker Autodesk Inc. As construction manager, Tocci Building worked alongside the architectural firm KlingStubbins, Cambridge, Mass., to build the 61,000-sq-ft facility—the first IPD project in the Northeast.

John embraced the new approach. He jumped right in and put the interest of the project first. He saw progress as taking the best thinking no matter where it came from. I’ve never seen a builder behave that way before.

Phillip Bernstein, V.P. ,+ Industry Relations and Strategist at Autodesk AEC Solutions

BIM is an industry standard now. Whereas others have come to the table reluctantly, Tocci was absolutely an early adopter and a believer from the very beginning.

Scott Simpson, Sr. Director at KlingStubbins
Ongoing Innovations

The firm continues to break new ground in IPD with the 14,000-sq-ft, $12.7-million cancer treatment wing at Marlborough Hospital Oncology Center in Marlborough, Mass. The pavilion is the first healthcare project in New England to be completed under an IPD contract.

The firm’s VDC department, now up to 11 people, focuses on improving the company’s processes with increased training and new technologies. The department uses a host of software, including Meridian Systems’ Prolog, to compile metrics across the company from current and historical projects. Everything from internal BIM usage data and training effectiveness to pounds per sq ft of waste on project sites is being tracked in hopes of isolating improvement opportunities.

“We try to quantify everything we do. If you can’t measure it, then you can’t improve it. If you can measure it, you can manage it,” says Bud LaRosa, Tocci’s chief business performance officer.

Handler adds that the goal of the department is to become “obsolete” and “achieve the level of BIM adoption, knowledge, and capability that centralized resources for VDC are no longer necessary.”

With Boston’s unemployment rate hovering around 5.5%, well below the national average, corporate office space, both inside and outside the city, is a potential growth market, LaRosa says. “Life sciences, medical, and medical office space has become red hot, and we expect to see more of that in 2013 and beyond,” he adds. Currently, the company is acting as the program manager and VDC enabler for four development projects at Alexandria Center Kendall Square, an 11-acre science and biotechnology campus in Cambridge, Mass.

We’re about halfway through construction of the first building, and I can count on one hand the number of field-generated RFIs [requests for information] we’ve had. I think we’re getting a better product because Tocci has the expertise to push the contractors to use BIM effectively to achieve the best results.

Andy Reinach, Assistant V.P. of Alexandria Real Estate Equities Inc.

Being ahead of the industry curve helped Tocci maintain a strong balance sheet during the four-year economic downturn. “Unlike other firms, our margins did not deteriorate from 2008 to 2012. In fact, our margins outperformed during 2009 and 2010,” LaRosa says. “We were able to maintain margins primarily due to efficiencies utilizing BIM and other collaborative technologies. Reduced subcontracting pricing due to the economy helped as well.”

The company also expanded its business in 2009 with consulting services. Tocci’s VDC department took on a second identity with the launch of Q5, a company within the company that specializes in VDC and IPD consultations. For the past year, the firm has been consulting with Harvard’s planning and project management group on the university’s implementation of BIM. Tocci’s team, led by Handler, developed a 10-year BIM roadmap as well as algorithm-based software to determine if BIM is appropriate for specific projects.

After cutting 40% of its 100 workers during the recession, the firm’s payroll has climbed back to 75. With most projects ranging from $10 million to $120 million, the privately held company is at the same revenue level today as before the recession, with 25% fewer people, primarily due to efficiencies, La Rosa says.

Beyond the company, John Tocci started the Associated General Contractors of America’s BIM Forum to study the implications of BIM industry-wide. His reputation as a BIM pioneer takes him to speaking engagements all over the country as well as overseas.

Though Tocci is more optimistic about the industry these days, he has no plans to slow down. “We’re seeing a level of culpability, responsibility, and planning that we haven’t seen in this industry in several decades, but we still have a long road ahead of us,” he says.